Parents of teenagers can often find themselves dealing with situations that are far more complicated than they dealt with when their children were younger. Bullying is one of those situations. It can be tough to know what to do when you find out your teen is being bullied. Many times teens are reluctant to tell their parents that they're being bullied out of fear that their parents either won't take them seriously or will overreact – and the truth is, sometimes, those fears are justified. Take a look at a few tips that can help you help your teen when they're being bullied.
Take It Seriously
It can be tempting to give your kids the "sticks and stones can break your bones, but words will never hurt you" speech, especially if that's how you were taught to deal with bullies in your own childhood. However, the facts about the effects of bullying are alarming. Bullying victims can experience depression, anxiety, loneliness, and changes in their sleeping and eating habits. These effects don't necessarily end when the bullying stops, either – they can follow your teen into adulthood. Studies have also found that bullying victims are 7 to 9% more likely to consider suicide. It's also important to remember that today's teens can't easily escape bullying when the school bell rings. Bullies can easily follow your teen into their home or other places that should be safe by way of the internet – a practice called cyberbullying.
Whether your teen came to you for help or you found out about the bullying in some other way, your job as a parent is to support your teen, and that means giving the problem the weight it deserves. If you don't take it seriously, your teen may not be willing to come to you if the bullying escalates or if they find themselves considering some drastic action.
Give Your Teen Tools to Cope
While you definitely want to take the problem seriously, you may not want to immediately jump to calling the parents of the bullies or involving school officials. Sometimes, these actions can backfire on your teen, leading to even more harassment. Instead, look for ways to give your teen the tools they need to help themselves. In mild cases, your teen may just need someone to talk to – be willing to listen to your teen without offering judgment or unwanted advice. Help your teen avoid isolation by finding ways to increase their social circle. For example, joining church youth groups, community youth clubs, or sports teams may be a way for your teen to find new friends. Teens with a tight social circle are less likely to be bullied and more likely to be able to handle it if they are. There really is strength in numbers.
You may also want to encourage your teen to get counseling. Counseling can help your child process their feelings and learn useful coping strategies. If your teen suffers from low self-esteem, counseling can help build their confidence and improve their ability to stand up for themselves. It can also help your teen overcome some of the negative effects of bullying, like depression and anxiety.
Know When to Bring In The Authorities
Some bullying behaviors cross the line into the illegal and dangerous, and when that happens, it's important to take charge, even if your teen doesn't like the idea. If your teen is being physically hurt or threatened, for example, you should contact your local police and file a complaint. The school should also be aware whenever there's a threat to your child's safety so that they can take steps to protect your teen.
Cyberbullying behaviors can also go beyond cruel comments and become dangerous. For example, the practices of doxxing (revealing someone's personal contact information online) and swatting (reporting a false hostage situation at someone's address to the police, prompting an armed police response) can put your teen and the rest of your family in danger. If your teen is being cyberbullied, it's important that you monitor the situation. Set up a Google alert for your child's name, so that you get an email letting you know if your teen is being discussed online. Take screenshots and save copies of bullying on social media and via text message. Let your ISP know that your teen is being harassed – they may be able to help you track down anonymous harassers and block them from contacting your teen. If your teen is doxed, threatened, or if the behavior crosses into stalking, file a report with your local police.
Finally, if you find yourself at a loss for how to protect and support your teen, considering seeking counseling as a family. Family counseling can help give you the tools you need to effectively support your child, and going together lets your teen know they aren't in it alone. Dealing with bullies can be complicated even for adults, but it's important that you are willing to admit when you need outside help and take steps to find it. Not only will you be helping your teen, you'll also be setting a good example.